Kwanzaa community celebrations this year in Galveston will include a Kid’s Kwanzaa on Thursday and a community event set for Friday.
The focus will be on looking back to go forward — recovering and reconfiguring African traditions for African Americans today.
“We have lost a lot of traditions that would bolster us now if we would go back and fetch them, so to speak,” said Sue Johnson, executive director of Nia Cultural Center in Galveston. Johnson helped bring the celebration of Kwanzaa to Galveston more than 20 years ago.
“There’s so much we don’t know about our history and our heritage that makes us a great people,” said Johnson, a retired respiratory therapist who founded the Nia Cultural Center in 1992. “We had a wonderful past, disrupted by slavery. We just don’t have enough about us in books we read in school and the community.”
The Nia Cultural Center will help present the 24th annual Kwanzaa Celebration, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at the Old Cultural Center, 2627 Ave. M, in Galveston. The Kwanzaa Market will open at 5 p.m.
“Building and Maintaining Our Community Together” is the theme.
Scheduled activities include:
• The principle of the day, ujima (Swahili for cooperative work and responsibility), will be presented by the mayor of Prairie View, Frank Jackson.
• The Drum Call will be led by Master Drummer Abubakr Kouyate, who lived and studied in Guinea, West Africa. Accompanying him will be African dancers.
• Performers will include Master Lou, Jontae Brown, youth from Musical Beginnings, Wright Cuney musicians led by Lawrence Thomas, Freedom School Dancers, Christina Simmons and sons Deyonze and Jayvohn Thompson.
• The Kwanzaa Market, opening at 5 p.m., will offer Kwanzaa gifts from vendors with unique gift items, clothing, books and house wares.
• Scholars from the Nia Cultural Center Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School will lead the candle lighting ceremony that helps explain the principles of Kwanzaa and encourages “Harambee!” — meaning “Let’s all pull together.”
Kwanzaa, a nonreligious holiday created by Maulana Karenga, introduces and reinforces seven basic values of African culture that contribute to building and sustaining family, community and culture among African American people, Johnson said. The core principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
The weeklong celebration is observed Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, concluding in a feast and gift giving. This year’s community celebration in Galveston falls on the third day, focusing on the principle of cooperative work and responsibility.
But the public event is only part of the celebration. In homes throughout the county, families will decorate their households with objects of art and colorful African cloth. Stories will be told of family ancestors, of overcoming adversity.
“Those stories keep going us forward; we get to know more about who we are and what we were,” said Johnson. “We can hold up some of the values that have become lost in modern day life.
“It’s the concept of looking back to go forward. There are things in our past we could replicate today to get through some tough times.”